Virtual PubsGutenberg books have provided written information for centuries where any reader could pick up a text and absorb the ideas of the writer no matter where he was as long as he had a copy of the book. Fast-forward across centuries to the present, and we still have a similar format for publishing books and edition changes. The graphics and images may have improved over time, but little else has ultimately changed.

College students from the past can certainly remember going to the book store and spending hundreds of dollars per semester for text books, many of which the professor never even used. Additionally, many of the lectures in class and/or the course assessments were not always in sync with textbook chapters, often leading to student frustrations over assignments and grades.

ECPI University started to address these problems several years ago with custom textbooks that mapped to some of the course outcomes but not all. One of the problems that were discovered was that once the custom textbook was developed, it was very difficult to update in a timely manner. Afterwards, it was decided to move into eBooks, but the initial offerings were nothing more than static PDF files that were difficult to read and in some cases even more difficult to comprehend.

Today, ECPI University is developing Virtual Publications – or vPubs – that are specifically mapped to the course outcomes and offer mobility along with rich content to enhance the student learning experience. Some of the features of the vPub include

  • Search capability
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlighting
  • Email
  • Social network integration.

Faculty began researching this as soon as iBook Author made it possible to create and deliver content in an efficient and exciting manner. The initial focus for the vPubs was threefold: that they are mobile, content rich, and as interactive and engaging as possible.

The first step in the process was to develop an outline or storyboard in iBooks Author since the iPads were portable and easy to access and distribute. Soon afterward, it was realized that the content would need to be presented on any type of mobile device that a student may prefer, so the vPub Development Team looked at several technologies for a tool or software that would help achieve this goal. HTML5 became the clear answer and now vPubs can be presented on any device that connects to the Internet. This includes iPads, iPhones, Droids, Android Tablets, laptops, desktops, and Blackberry devices.

Second, vPubs should be rich in written content, images, and multi-media. All content is written by subject matter experts who work closely with the instructional designers to ensure the content is clear, user-friendly, and appropriately mapped to course outcomes. The graphics for these publications are all custom-designed to facilitate presenting the textual content in a dynamic and animated way.

There are also interactive elements that make accessing and absorbing the information presented in the classroom more engaging and fun. These include various widgets, objects, and even games. Also included are multiple assessment objects to keep students on track and focused. These assessments let students know what concepts they grasp and those that may need more attention. Many of the other resources that can help the student master difficult concepts are topic-driven video and multi-media presentations.

Finally, the team designed and continues to evolve vPubs with modern learning in mind. Attention spans have diminished over the years. Students want to point and click and “get it now.” They seem perpetually engaged on their devices, so vPubs are being designed to meet them exactly where they are and in a way that is familiar and almost second nature. One feature of the vPubs is that content is only focused on concepts that are key to the course. Textual content is delivered in small chunks that can be easily digested and connected to information that is already in the student’s mind. This connection drives the memorization needed but refuses to stop there; the memory is only a tool to understand and convey concepts. Also included are many gaming concepts to provide another familiar and fun activity in which students often engage themselves and learn.

The Virtual Publication project has been moving steadily over the past year and there are now three course publications in classroom production (CIS106, CIS150, and ENG110) and three course publications (CIS225, ENG120, and CIS212) under development. Two of the courses under development are slated for completion by the end of 2014. As always, feedback is encouraged. Suggested changes and updates can be sent to vpub@ecpi.edu

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